Socially Responsible Investing (SRI): a journey to consciousness
I have been working for big corporations for years either as a manager or in CxO positions, but it is only lately that I have really started to understand how corporations’ vision and strategies are impacted by shareholders. To be more precise, I became aware that the people representing the shareholders are only interested in the return they get …! They are not at all interested in the social return and in the environmental impact. You could say that these people are heartless, couldn’t you? But let’s pause a second, who is mandating these people? We are mandating them, as soon as we put our savings in a bank, investment fund or whatever financial organization. What are we expecting from those organizations when we trust them with our savings? Return, risk level, liquidity…. Do we ever ask questions about social return and the environmental impact to our banker? Most of us don’t and I didn’t for years.
The process can be explained quite simply. When you give your money to a bank, the bank gives it to investment funds and the investment funds appoint traders to maximize the return of their funds. The way traders work is well described in Douglas Kennedy’s book « Chasing Mammon: Travels in the Pursuit of Money » and it is scaring! There may be a lot of « go-betweens » between you and the receiving organization. During this process, the message your money is carrying becomes even tougher: ever more financial returns and nothing else. We all play an important role while saving money, but we don’t know it. It is of course easier to blame the traders, the banks, the CEO’s …
So, what can I do?
Put my savings in truly ethical funds and organisations
I started to put all my savings in ethical funds and organisations. It took me a while to find my way as the market is limited, some funds pretend to be ethical but aren’t, we don’t know the possibilities, … A site that helped me a lot is the one of « Financité » which has an up-to-date inventory of all ethical investments in Belgium, from funds to local cooperatives.
Be active in a cooperative or ethical fund
Recently, I decided to help more actively, as a volunteer, an ethical fund. My choice went to Oikocredit, an international microfinance institute with a worldwide activity thanks to its 800 local partners. I am the chairman of the belgian subsidiary and a supervisory board member of Oikocredit International. (more info on my Oikocredit page)
Integrate the concept of SRI in your work
I wanted to do something more: to help creating awareness of the substantial impact we all have when investing our savings in financial organizations. So when last summer I had to find a project for a lecture on project management I give to Erasmus students, I decided to propose a project I named « The Story of Finance ». The objective of it being to raise awareness of the people investing their money. This is one of the outputs that came out of it: